Three months was more than enough time last year for home listings in many areas to sell and even close. But now listings are expiring unsold, often leaving sellers wondering what to do next.

It’s possible that the term of the listing agreement — often 90 days — was unrealistic given current market conditions in the area. Sellers of expired or soon-to-be-expired listings should ask their agent to provide a printout from the multiple listing service showing all the sales in the area of somewhat comparable properties. Make sure the data includes the number of days the listing was on the market from list date to pending date and from listing to closing. A listing is pending when the sellers have accepted a purchase offer.

You may discover that your expectations were out of line with the market because it’s taking more than three months to sell most homes in your area. If so, and if you’re satisfied with the marketing service your agent has provided, extend the listing agreement. Sellers may find going forward that the most professional and successful real estate agents initially will require more than a 90-day listing.

Some sellers blame their agents when listings expire unsold. There are certainly some agents who don’t understand marketing or how to provide high-quality service to their clients. But, before firing your agent, ask for a summary of all the marketing the agent has done on your behalf.

The most professional agents keep their clients up-to-date on their marketing efforts on a regular basis. However, not all agents do. If you decide to renew with your agent and you haven’t been receiving weekly updates, make sure that you receive them in the future.

HOME SELLER TIP: The most common reason a listing expires unsold is that it’s overpriced for the market. To sell in today’s market, you need to be realistic about the likely sale price of your home. Wishful thinking doesn’t sell listings. One reason to hire a real estate agent is for accurate pricing information. Unfortunately, there are agents who will tell you what you want to hear about the expected market value of your home rather than what the market indicates is an appropriate value.

Carefully selecting a real estate agent is more critical in a soft market than it is when listings virtually sell themselves. Be sure to find an agent who is candid, reputable and skilled at marketing. Sellers who discover that their homes don’t sell because their real estate agents misled them about the price should find another agent who understands the importance of honesty and professionalism. It ultimately could do more harm than good if you bring your home on the market way overpriced.

More often, the seller is the source of a high list price. If the list price is too high, it makes no sense to extend the listing with your current agent or change to a new one without adjusting the price. Overpriced listings that sit on the market too long get stale in buyers’ and agents’ minds. Your listing becomes the “White Elephant” that can’t be sold. You can erase that stigma by selecting a new “priced-to-sell” price.

THE CLOSING: The expiration of a listing is also a good time to see if there have been any other impediments to the sale such as a difficult showing procedure or tired décor. Correct these obstacles before you bring your home back on the market so that they don’t continue to hinder the sales effort. 

Dian Hymer is author of “House Hunting, The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers” and “Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide,” Chronicle Books.

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